Sri Lanka leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointment of controversial Buddhist monk Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero to lead the Presidential Task Force for One Country, One Law has shocked government critics and ethnic minorities.
Gnanasara Thero was released by a presidential pardon in 2019 while serving a prison sentence for contempt of court. The monk is among groups that have been linked to anti-Muslim campaigns since 2011.
Gnanasara’s appointment to head a 13-member task force including four Muslims and nine Buddhists comes as the administration is facing rising protests over a ban on agrochemicals and rising inflation with money printing worsening the fallout from a Coronavirus pandemic.
President announced the task force via a gazette on Wednesday (27).
“Absolutely shocking! How is Gotabaya Rajapaksa actually making these decisions? No representation from the main ethnicities, no female representation,” opposition legislator Harshana Rajakaruna said on his Twitter platform.
“And what qualifications or qualities does Gnanasara Thero possess to lead a Presidential Task Force? Especially one that deals with making recommendations about the law. Furthermore, Thera has constantly provoked racism in this country and has violated many laws.”
Another opposition legislator Mano Ganeshan said the task force is without any Tamil member with Gnanasara Thero as the chairman.
“Bet they will keep us entertained for the next few months. All’s well in Sri Lanka,” Ganeshan tweeted.
Gnanasara Thero in 2012 started an anti-Muslim campaign and asked the majority of Sinhalese to avoid consuming and buying goods from Muslim-owned businesses.
The United States in 2014 cancelled the visa given to Gnanasarathera who was heading the hardline Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) group while social media platform Facebook blocked his account after his group’s alleged involvement in violence against Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims in the Western coastal town of Aluthgama.
He was later arrested for contempt of court during a previous administration but then-President Maithripala Sirisnenagave him a presidential pardon.
Critics have said Gnanasara Thero has been used to create a rift between the Sinhala majority and Muslim minority for political reasons.
But the monk has denied the allegation and said Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority has issues that are not addressed by any politician and he had been trying to address them.
Gnanasara Thero was praised by many people after the Easter Sunday attack in 2019 because he had warned strongly against rising Islamic extremists linked with foreign Islamist military groups like ISIS.
Rajapaksa promised One Country, One Law in his election manifesto.
The move was aimed at implementing one law of all and abolishing all other laws including Muslim marriage law and some other regional laws that had existed for centuries in Sri Lanka.
Under colonial rule Roman-Dutch law spread in the lowlands and the British abolished slavery and also Wadawassam (service tenure) but many personal laws, land tenure and customs including in the Kandyan region continued.
Aritha Wickramasinghe, a rights activist, in a Facebook post, questioned Rajapaksa’s decision on appointing GnanasaraThero.
“You don’t choose a lawless person and a convicted criminal on multiple charges to lead a Task Force on law,” he said.
“Gnanasara’s treatment and appointment is the perfect example of this country not having one country, one law. He has openly violated Sri Lankan law on numerous occasions, including spreading racism and threatening state officials without arrest.”
“He was finally sentenced to 19 years of imprisonment by the Court of Appeal. He was given a Presidential pardon for his crimes. He has constantly shown that he is above the law. He is a great example of ONE COUNTRY, NO LAW.”
Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, a collective body of ethnic Muslim minority said the move shows what the government wants from the task force.
“Basically they could not have chosen a worse person than GnanasaraThero to lead this task force. There are more than 150 complaints against him over the anti-Muslim hate speech campaign. He has been provided impunity by the government,” Ahamed said.
“The government is trying to send a clear message not only for Muslims but for all minorities that they are hellbent on taking away the rights of minorities.” (Colombo/Oct27/2021)
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